We sons of God possess a glorious liberty (). Glorious because it is true liberty. All other liberties are mere pictures or illusions. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed ( ). Such liberty cannot be taken by revolution, earned by merit, infringed upon, or ever revoked, but is an everlasting gift of God’s grace ( ). It is a freedom not possessed by everyone, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there alone is liberty ( ). This true, glorious liberty is exclusively Christian liberty.
Christian liberty is not freedom from authority or rule of law. Mankind, following Mother Eve, supposes liberty is self-determination, freedom to do as you please. That’s a lie. And Christians should find revolting any notion of liberty as independence. No man can live free from God. If not subject to His law, His grace, or His Christ, we are enslaved by the devil, sin, and death, free only from righteousness ()—the cruelest bondage. And even when liberated as the Lord’s free men, being free, we nevertheless are the Lord’s servants ( ).
Nor is Christian liberty mainly freedom with regard to things God neither commands nor forbids (so-called adiaphora or ‘things indifferent’). Scripture recognizes such liberty, but the term is not biblical. And God is never indifferent. He may not expressly command or forbid what clothing to wear, monies to spend, beverages to drink, or even to marry or not, but still has much to say about modesty and stewardship, drunkenness and addiction, marriage and single life. And even things not expressly forbidden or commanded are still only permitted if the conscience is strong—and denied, if it tempts weaker consciences to sin ().
Christian liberty is the everlasting blessedness of life by the Holy Spirit, whereby one is willingly subject to the rule of Christ and freed from sin in every form and consequence. It is, therefore, a liberty far more glorious and extensive than freedom merely to eat meats offered to idols. Christian liberty describes the whole of our salvation from justification to sanctification, and encompasses the whole of our life from regeneration in this life to eternal glory in the next.
Christian liberty begins with freedom from the legal consequences of sin. The sinner who believes in the atoning death of Christ is justified by faith and thus freed from all charges of sin (). There simply is no condemnation of those in Christ Jesus, for the Spirit of life frees them from the law of sin and death ( ). Freed from all condemnation, the Christian is also liberated from the guilt of sin, the shame of sin, and even fear of sin, including fear of sinners, the devil, and death (Belgic Confession, Art. 23; ). And because Jesus is the one sacrifice for sin, this liberty also frees us from the Old Testament ceremonial law ( ). Nevertheless, because this liberty also makes us servants of Christ, His law to love Him and our neighbor remains.
Christian liberty is, therefore, also freedom from the power of sin, that is, the gift of the Spirit willingly to serve God and keep His commandments. Marvelously, this liberty that began with freedom from death, is perfected by death. By baptism, our old man is crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed (). Being made thus dead to sin, we are freed from being servants of sin in our flesh to being servants of righteousness unto God in our new man ( ). Although this freedom is not made perfect until the body of sin is destroyed in the grave, nevertheless it is true liberty, a real desire and ability to do good works that we could not do before (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 44). And it is not freedom from God and His law, but is the freedom of heart, mind, soul, and strength actually to serve God and keep His commandments ( ), the perfect law of liberty ( ), the truth which sets us free ( ).
So being thus called, let us not use our liberty as a cloak of maliciousness (), or as an occasion to the flesh to serve ourselves, but by love to serve one another—for all the law is fulfilled in one word: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself ( ). Liberty indeed.